The Press Self-Regulation: Danish Experience

7 m.   |  2020-01-29

From November 18 to December 6, Sweden and Denmark hosted “Media Self-Regulation in Democracy” curriculum, where experts from Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine learned about the Scandinavian experience of media’s regulation and had a number of important meetings.

I was involved in the Armenian group. We met with Danish Parliamentarian and former Minister of Defense Claus Hjort Frederiksen, and discussed the State’s responsibilities in the field of Media and freedom of speech. We also visited the Union of Journalists, the editorial board of the largest newspaper Politiken, met with the representatives of Danish Television and Radio Commission and the Press Council and with a number of leading experts in the field.

It should be noted, that public administration and especially press regulation in Denmark are largely based on mutual trust. There is a high level of state-press-society trust, and all the vicious manifestations, which currently exist in Armenia, are missing due to the stable financial conditions.

The basis of democratic society is the freedom of speech right, which is closely connected with the human’s right to be informed and to get information. In this regard, the press plays an important role which not only guarantees the spread of information but also plays an important role in forming a free thought and position.

Nowadays, there are numerous tools regulating the press. State and media relations are regulated with a number of laws: freedom of information, mass media laws and so on. The court is also a relations regulating body, and in some countries so does the self-regulatory body or the Press Council.

Exactly such council operates in the Kingdom of Denmark, where the state obliges the media to obey the decisions made by the Press Council, which includes the representatives of both the press and the state.

Danish Press Council [1]

D anish Press Council was established in 1992 pursuant to the Danish Media Liability Act. The Council consists of 8 members, who are appointed by the Ministry of Justice and has a 6 member staff. [2]

Staff of the Press Council

  • Chairman and a Vice-Chairman of the High Court,
  • 2 representatives from the Danish Union of Journalists (journalists),
  • 2 editors from the printed press, television and radio,
  • 2 representatives from civil society.

Besides this staff, additional 8 members (in reserve) are appointed: if the main staff cannot operate for some reason, they assume the authority.   

Board meetings are closed-door and are held once per month. At least half of the staff is required in order to convene a meeting. That is, at least 1 journalist, 1 editor, 1 representative from the civil society, the chairman or the vice-chairman of the board.

The Board’s regulation area includes:

  • The printed press,
  • Radio and television,
  • News websites, which are registered in the Ministry of Justice and/or receive state financial support.

News websites of Board regulation also receive a special sign (logo), which states that the editorial staff adopted a Code of Ethics and was obliged to follow it.

The special sign of the media who adopted the Code

The Media also benefits from being in the Board’s regulation domain, rather than deal with the state of citizens through the court: there is no need to engage in litigation, hire a human rights defender. The Board’s decision is mandatory for Media. If the Media refuses to publish the Council’s verdict against him, the case immediately passes to the court, where an editor can be fined or even imprisoned.

The complaint against the media can be filed within 12 weeks after publication of the issue.

The Board may refuse to investigate the complaint in the following cases:

  • If the complaint concerns a printed press, which is printed no more than twice a year.
  • If the complaint concerns another state-owned media, which operates in Denmark.
  • If the publication does not directly concern the complainant or the person in his custody.
  • If the deadline or procedure for filing a complaint has been violated.

The Press Council receives up to 180 complaints annually, 110-120 of which are being examined.

The Danish Union of Journalists [3]

T he Danish Union of Journalists is also a self-regulatory and self-funded body. It has about 18 thousand members, who pay a monthly membership fee of about 60 euros. The Union of Journalists provides a large number of services to journalists (legal counseling and unemployment benefit).

State Support to Newspapers

Denmark has a state support mechanism for printed press, which is used by all the newspapers. In order to get a state subsidy the newspaper should meet a number of criteria: ownership and financial transparency, should have more than 5 employees, should follow the rules of journalistic ethics and be a member of the Union of Journalists.

Considering the fact, that subscription tradition is widely spread in Denmark, the newspapers are financially stable and the state subsidy is generally spent on shipping.

Internal Ombudsman

M ajority of Danish Media also has a position for internal ombudsman, whose functions include the reader-media relation. Every week the employee publishes inaccuracies on the site, follows the users’ comments and responds to the readers’ dissatisfaction. It’s noteworthy, that although the editorial staff pays to the ombudsman, he has a full editorial and critical freedom.

Code of Ethics [4]

The Code of Journalistic Ethics includes numerous professional requirements, which do not affect freedom of speech and other democratic values when following them. In 1992, Denmark has adopted the Media Liability Act, according to which the press should follow the rules of ethics in all its activities. Article 34 of the Act determines, that the content of the published material must comply with the “Positive Traditions of Media”. While creating a material, journalist must fairly and accurately cover the events (FAIR - Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), correct the dangerous wordings by maintaining correctness in racial, sexual, religious and political issues and respect people’s national sentiments.

Human’s personal life is of paramount value to the Danish media. If the issue concerns an event of high public interest, it is important to study its public importance in detail, and only after that make a decision to publish. Moreover, the Code of Ethics prohibits to cover suicide attempts and incidents, unless there are no other circumstances of high public importance.

Freedom of Speech and Religious Views

O n September 30, 2005, a Danish newspaper Jyllands-posten published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which was followed by a great wave of outrage among the country’s Muslim population. Citizens claimed that the publication violated their religious sentiments. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and many other countries sent a note of protest to the Danish authorities. Saudi Arabia even recalled its ambassador and called on its population to refuse Danish products.

Nevertheless, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen announced, that the freedom of speech is at the heart of Danish democracy and the government is not going to impact the press.

In 2010, a 24-year old Muslim exploded a bomb in Copenhagen. As a result of personal search they revealed a map, showing the Jyllands-Posten’s editorial.

[1] Danish Press Council

[2] The Media Liability Act

[3] The Danish Union of Journalists

[4] The Code of Ethics